All the following questions are those that have been sent to me by interested persons.
Where and when did you attend art school ?
Leeds Polytechnic 79-83 in the UK.
Do you think it’s important for artists to go to Art school ?
I don’t know really. I don’t think it is essential but it could be a great help. Like many students, I went at a time in my life when I wasn’t really ready to use it to full advantage.
Do you do school visits ?
Yes. I do one hour seminars at schools about my life and work.
When were you first struck by the Trompe-l'œil ( trick of the eye ) style art ?
I had seen trompe-l’oeil in the true sense of the word – as in paintings of small highly detailed natural objects in close-up from art history books.
What is the “Anamorphosis” technique ?
It is doing a drawing in a distorted, stretched form so that from one particular viewpoint, and as seen through a lens the distortion appears to resolve into the correct shape and form. In the case of a pavement drawing this means we view it at an odd angle to the surface. This allows us to create the illusion of solid or hollow forms going in to, coming out of or standing on the ground.
How long does it take to make a 3D piece of art on the street ?
4 days for a major piece. After that the work of the first day starts to need repair so it seldom exceeds this.
How do you start a new piece ?
I sketch it out in pencil on a small pad and then convert that view to the pavement. I have to know what I am aiming at.
Do you practise before drawing a 3D art piece or do you do a no-preparation live act ?
Sometimes I practice parts that I know will be tricky.
Was Anamorphosis an original idea of your own, or are there similar previous works in art history ?
Others got there long before me – the most celebrated example being the skull in Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors”.
What materials do you use ?
Most of my work is done using artists’ dry pastel chalks and pigment but I also do longer lasting work in paint.
Can your drawings be done on any pavement ?
No; far from it. Many pavements are unsuitable. I need a smooth, even surface that pastel chalk will adhere to. This must not be shiny like polished marble nor must it be too course or with gravel protruding from the surface. Cobbled or bricked pavements do not work since the outline and mortar joins between the bricks, which cannot be hidden intrude too much in to the picture and tell the eye that this is really flat. If the surface is unsuitable, a drawing or painting can nevertheless be created if the ground is provisioned with an artificial surface such as : vinyl, primed canvas, MDF panels or if concrete paving slabs are placed on the surface.
Do you do your pavement drawings on canvas ?
Yes. See above, but paving slabs are my favourite.
How often do you make works of art ?
It depends a lot on commissions and other commitments; so very irregular these days.
What is the significance of the particular medium/s you work in ?
Chalk is very fast and very easy to correct allowing you to do a big picture in a limited amount of time. Ideal on stone and cement. And...it is temporary! This means you can often get away with it in a public place whereas if it was in paint it would be considered to be grafitti or vandalism. Paint of course last longer but it also takes longer to do.
Do you feel there is a relationship between graffiti and your own work ?
Not really. I don’t do graffiti. My work is not permanent – it will wash away by itself. It doesn’t affect anyone’s property. Although one could say it is imposed on the city scene, it is only for a short space of time and is done openly.
How would you describe your own style ?
How does the setting in which your art is viewed effect how it is viewed ?
Being in the street gives it a life of its own and captures a moment in time.
Is there a relationship between image and word in your work ?
Only that between the image and the title.
What made you decide to do the street art thing ?
I left art college and worked in the street doing Punch and Judy. It was a progression from one kind of street performance to another.
Who were the artists you looked up to when starting out ?
Before doing « 3D » illusions I often drew reproductions of old masters in the street– da Vinci, Durer, Raphael, Rosetti, - beautiful pictorial stuff created before the 20th century movements undermined this kind of vision. In the early part of my career as a pavement artist I did many “cover” versions of old masters, copies if you will, and these helped inform my skills as an artist and made me a lot more conversant and capable in using pastel crayons before ever attempting an anamorphic illusion.
Do you use mathematics or computer programmes to plan out your drawings ?
Hardly ever. I do it almost entirely by eye. Occasionally the need arises to scale something up or down using a grid but that’s about it.
While making the pieces outside there are always people walking by and talking to you, how is that working like that ?
It’s usually very pleasant. It allows me to meet local people in foreign countries which is not always so easy when you go as a tourist. When I get in to difficulties on a drawing and I feel incompetent it can be embarrassing having a crowd witness this. At those moments I would rather be alone!
Do you have a personal favorite Anamorphosis sidewalk piece? If so, which and why ?
Meeting Mr. Frog has a very good interaction between my daughter and the illusion of the frog and it serves also as a family souvenir.
Why do you continue creating chalk art instead of moving to a more permanent medium for Anamorphosis ?
That may be something I will move toward but I like the size, speed and freedom permitted in the streets using chalk.
Don’t you feel heart broken when the drawing gets washed away in the rain ?
This is the most frequent of all questions! Only if it is unfinished and has not been properly photographed. This does happen occasionally. For me the end product is the photograph and the chalk on the ground only a vehicle. While this lasts only a matter of days and may be seen by a few hundred people, a photo on the internet will last forever and may be seen by millions.
Do you have to obtain permits for every sidewalk project? What happens if you don’t ?
If you don’t you take a risk. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. You can be stopped from continuing and once I had my work washed off in front of me. I have been escorted to the police station once or twice. So long as you stay polite however there is little risk of further penalties. On the other hand, asking permission as an individual artist to local authorities is seldom successful and once they have said no you are worse off than if you hadn’t asked. In the case of commercial drawings, the permission is always obtained in advance by the organizers.
When did your work first become well known ?
It was entirely due to the internet when I showed about 6 pictures on a website. What caused most of a stir was my very first picture of a swimming pool and a highly realistic drawing of a Coke bottle. Although these were drawn in the early 90’s it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that anyone found them.
Doesn’t that fold up camp chair get uncomfortable after hours of work using it like Superman ?
Yes, but it reduces the discomfort that putting strain on the knees can cause.
Where can we find your book, “Pavement Chalk Artist” ?
To buy a book on the work of Julian Beever : "Pavement Chalk Artist"
Or try any online book sellers.
What factors have most influenced your work as an artist ?